Sunday, April 23, 2017

RnR 2017–The Rally I almost never started

 

I’m setting at home after returning from the rally and trying to decide how to tell this story. I think this time I’ll start at the end, first!

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Woohoo!  It’s taken me 5 years in this crazy sport to finally get one of these. The only thing that could have made it sweeter is if my rally friends Steve Bracken and Rex Legally could have been in the line up with me.

 

So this rally almost WASN’T. My riding level for 2017 has been as sparse as blog posts on here. I had only managed to take the bike out for one ride in March to scout some bonuses for another rally. Even that seemed like a struggle to find time for. There’s been lots of other things on my plate this year with the efforts to open a new business later this fall (lease negotiations, building plans, equipment shopping, etc…) and then my Mom got a nasty medical diagnosis followed by a significant surgical procedure. I just didn’t feel like I deserved to go ride around on my motorcycle for a weekend. But the rally master knew better. A friendly message to find out where my pre-rally bonus submissions were did the trick. I sent in what I needed to and started to prepare.

Preparation for this rally meant a few things; I needed to get my bike inspected and registered again, I needed to put on new tires (from last year!), I needed to order new riding pants (darn drier shrunk my old ones) and I needed to finish RallyMan! What????? you ask. That’s right, after last summer, I tinkered with my spreadsheet program trying to figure out how to make it better and then promptly shoved it into a folder and forgot about it.

Since I had made a promise back in August to share my routing system with a friend for this season I had to put it in high gear and shake out the cob webs in the program. As luck would have it, I found myself with an empty house the weekend before the rally so I went on a programming bender and hammered out lots and lots of bugs. I was determined I was going to ride a route that my program generated, so the program had to be right.

On Monday before the Rally started I had a working RallyMan system, with a settings page that looked like this:

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Since the program queries Google Maps for the times and distances between bonus locations, I needed to decide what Speed Correction I would use. This correction is applied to the Average speed of the trip between two bonuses, not just the adjustment to the speed limit sign. Going too far with this setting can ruin the effectiveness of the whole program. This time I was only going to bump up the correction by  +2 miles per hour for any segment with an average speed of 60mph or higher. I also opted to take the full rest bonus at 30 points per minute!Schedule1

With the changes made and a little tweaking to find the best zip codes (that was done by hand) I had a route I was happy with totaling 43,622 points if I could ride it and find something purple along the way. So I loaded my GPS, my tablet and PoiPocket. Then proceeded to book my room and pack. I didn’t really touch the route before the start of the rally. I did however continue to tweak on the RallyMan program because I wasn’t happy with it’s mid-rally re-calculate abilities.

Of course, I had to keep working on my regular job plus keep things moving with the contractor and landlord for the new business. And I remained worried about my Mom and her recovery.

Finally Thursday comes, I rolled the bike out of the garage, thumb the starter and ride out of the neighborhood for my first rally of 2017 and only my second ride of the year. My trip up to the start in Paris, TX would take me by my parents house so I stopped in to visit for a couple of hours and see how Mom was doing. Then I continued up to Paris, scouted the 2 bonuses in town, found an ATM right next to the start bonus and picked up a few groceries from Wal-Mart before checking into the Quality Inn.

After dinner with many of the Paris starters, I looked into an aux lighting problem and once I determined I wasn’t going to fix it in time, I buttoned up the bike and proceeded to catch up with friends. This sport is as much a social gathering as it is about the riding. Many of these people I only get to see a few times a year.  I turned in early because I knew the next two days would be long ones.

I was up just after 4am, got ready and enjoyed a cup of coffee with my breakfast. Then I slipped out of the parking lot just before 5am. Since there was an ATM in the same parking lot as the first bonus, I knew that would save lots of time but I also knew I wanted to be first in line to take advantage of the proximity. Waiting 2 or 3 minutes wouldn’t be any better than getting a gas receipt 1 mile down the road. When I arrived at the ATM, I wasn’t surprised to find I was the first one there. LOL.

Lonnie McCoy was the first rider to show up followed by Bob Bowman. During our conversation while waiting I mentioned that the ATM was really only going to be a benefit to the first 3 or 4 riders, after that the delay would make it ineffective. Bob commented, “If three minutes is going to break your rally, you are already done.”  I didn’t say anything, but I knew that my rally schedule was timed to the minute.

6AM arrived, I got my start receipt and in short order I had the STARTTX bonus collected as well. I headed over to EAGL11 and then proceeded to get out of town.

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On the way out of town, Waze seemed to have a different idea about routing to the next bonus, so I switched over to Google Maps and stayed with it for most of the rally. The delay out of town was minimal and by the time I reached my next bonus I was already ahead of schedule.

The next three were Zip code bonuses which were effectively wild cards. We had to find post offices that displayed the city, state and zip code on the building. In return we collected the points equal to the last three digits, ie 559 points for zip code 75559 in Dekalb, TX.

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After collecting the Arkansas Zip code bonus, I was 17 minutes ahead on my route. This was a great start to my rally. I knew anything could go wrong throughout the day, but it was nice to have time in the rally bank so early.  Next up it was a stop at the Arkansas Diamond state park followed by a lucky purple sign to get my 500 point RAIN bonus in honor of Prince and finally the Bauxite Miner Family Statue. I was 35 minute ahead of schedule after the BMFS bonus!

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So far the weather was holding out for me, with cloudy skies and comfortable temperatures although I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d eventually find some rain.

I finally found that rain as I rolled into Little Rock, Arkansas to collect 3 bonuses in the area, EAGL10, ARSUB and MGAS. I had looked up the name of the Submarine before I got there which made it easier to find the sign with the submarine’s name which was what the bonus instructions said to take a picture of. In hindsight, it appears I probably should have done these in the order of MGAS, EAGL10 and ARSUB, rather than backwards as I did. None the less, even with the rain, I left MGAS with 31 minutes of extra time.

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From Little Rock, I headed north and started to drive out of the rain. I was wondering if my program had made a mistake because it seemed crazy to be riding so far for just the 423 points of BOYTR. But I followed the plan, picking up EAGL9 along the way. At BOYTR I enjoyed a benefit from using Poi Pocket and point to point routing. I noticed that ABBY was less than 1 mile away. In fact when I tried to route to it, Google Maps defaulted to Walking rather than Driving. This was a HUGE gain for me. In very short order I added 680 points to my rally. And even with the unexpected bonus, I was still ahead by 30 minutes.

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It was time to head south to Memphis and pick up a few bonuses there. I thought the extra time was going to be helpful because it’s always time consuming to collect bonuses in major metro areas. I picked up REDROCK along the way and then landed downtown to grab SREC.  I got lucky on that one as I was able to snag the picture while at the light, then I pulled over to a driveway to make the submission. Interestingly, my program had routed past MTBF, MTES and MEBC equal to a total of 567 points.  I wasn’t going to second guess my route but did want to look into the problem once I stopped for my rest bonus later in the evening.

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When I left Memphis I still had 26 minutes of extra time on my side. That was a good thing too. Because once I dropped onto South 3rd Street out of Memphis it was slow going for a while. I might have been better to take I-55 south to I-69 West but I was following the fastest route between Google Maps and the Garmin. I collected GBVC, MDCX and DOKSS fairly easily while managing to get back up to 31 minutes ahead of schedule.

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The next bonus along the way was KTFG, in which I had to get a photo of me with a large Kermit the Frog. I had allocated 10 minutes for this bonus because I needed to take off my helmet, deal with a possibly chatty business person and so forth.  I was relieved and a little disappointed to discover the place had closed early. But I was able to get the bonus after calling the rally master. That really helped my time. I then collected ZIPMS753 and BFCAF which put me 43 minutes ahead of schedule!

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The extra time helped to ease my nerves as I rode into Jackson, MS. for the MBTL bonus. The instructions said to take a photo of a woman standing next to the phone booth holding my rally flag. I knew this bonus was going to be difficult for me as I really don’t like asking strangers for help. And I also don’t like taking off my helmet during a rally, but knew I really needed to do it so I’d appear less threatening in my “Power Ranger” suit. I had 15 minutes allocated for the bonus and used just about every minute of it. I asked a few different ladies until I finally peaked the curiosity of one woman and she agreed to hold the flag if I didn’t show her face in the photo. Deal!!!

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I left Jackson as quickly as I could, feeling very relieved that I had managed to get the bonus. I was 47 minutes ahead at this point.  When I arrived in Pontotoc, MS for the BTPC bonus, I was surprised to find Lonnie there as he was at KTFG the last time we had spoken on the phone. He opted not to go to Jackson. Good choice I think…   He helped me with my photo and I helped him with his. Then I headed to Tupelo for my last bonus before the Rest bonus.  Somehow, even though I left before him, I ended up pulling in behind him at the TUPE bonus.  No matter! We got our photos and then collected a start receipt for the REST bonus. The receipt showed 23:11 as my start time. Then both of us struggled to find a nearby hotel with any vacancies, eventually we found one about a mile away. $50 for a single was good enough for me!

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During the rest bonus, I calculated I was 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  That was enough to put my ride back into RallyMan and see what it came up with using the extra time. With the lucky addition of ABBY earlier, I knew I had a 44,302 point ride if I just finished what I had. And with the rain that it looked like I was certain to hit, it seemed like a safe option. But I was 45 minutes AHEAD OF SCHEDULE!!! This never happened in a rally. So I opted to keep 15 minutes of wiggle room in my route and use the remaining to see if RallyMan could find a better route while I showered.

It didn’t turn out as slick as I had hoped, because the program didn’t find anything much while I was in the shower but it had added a few points. At this point I started to examine the route closely around Nashville. It only had me stopping at BTOB for 264 points and skipping the other 3 bonuses worth 1,289 points!  Hmmmm, this is similar to what happened in Memphis. As I looked Schedule2into why this was happening, I discovered it was due to a Division by Zero error in the spreadsheet because the distance between bonuses was less than 1 mile so my Google routine returned 0 miles and 0 minutes. Oooops!  I manually corrected these locations in Nashville assuming each would take me 7 minutes because of the stop lights and such.  This was enough! If I could ride the plan, I’d come in with 45,000+ points which I was pretty sure would get me in the top 2 or 3. So I loaded my Garmin with the new route and went to sleep for a few hours.

I had my alarm set 45 minutes before I needed to collect my REST End receipt. I wanted to check the weather and adjust my route if need be. But the weather looked like it would play into my favor and I might actually miss the worst of the front as I headed East to the Space Shuttle. I went back to the gas station where I got my REST Start receipt and collected my end receipt, 362 minutes later. Close enough!  We headed to MELT and had a little trouble finding the statue in the dark. Lonnie was quicker out of the bonus than I was, but I caught up with him on the way to BTJL. Then it was off to CTTW. This was one time following the shorter route on the Garmin was bad, because it didn’t know about the bridge closure which of course Google Maps knew about.  Oh well, it was OK, I made it to CTTW 8 minutes ahead of schedule.  As I was leaving, Lonnie was arriving. This was the last time we saw each other for the rest of the rally.

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On my way to COON, the rain really started coming down. As I was on back country roads there really wasn’t an overpass to stop under to zip up. I did the best I could while in motion. By the time I reached COON, there were definitely a few wet spots in my riding gear. I collected the bonus and headed east toward ROCK picking up the AMHF bonus along the way.  Only after the rally did I learn there was a great post office just a mile away from the AMHF. Research man, RESEARCH!!!

Getting over to Huntsville, AL was definitely worth the ride. Seeing the Space Shuttle up close was awesome! Plus I was 10 minutes ahead again.

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I swept up two more Zip code bonuses on my way to Nashville and I was starting to dry out for the first time of the morning.

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As I came into Nashville, I was only 8 minutes ahead. But after thinking about it, I opted to add the NBCK bonus because it was literally around the corner from CMHF. In my research, it seemed the reference photo didn’t match the bonus description but I opted to give it a shot anyway for 278 points and I could drop one or two smaller bonuses toward the end like WSAT. It turned out the PRCH statue was missing, so I had to call the rally master. The real time suck in Nashville was just getting around. None the less, I left town on schedule. My extra time had vanished.

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By the time I reached EAGL1 the rain was back and traffic along I-65 was actually slowing me down. So I made the decision to drop my first bonus of the day, I’d drop HOGAN for 69 points. This seemed to indicate that I’d get back on schedule for a very small loss in points. Along the way to EAGL4, I stopped in for a GAS stop and to buy the 6PACK bonus. By the time I reached EAGL2, the camera on my phone was starting to fog up. I was 6 minutes BEHIND schedule with only a few bonuses left. 

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I headed west along Hwy 62 to Nortonville, KY where I picked up the Zip code bonus for KY.  It was only 442 points but they were points!

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As I left the post office and headed south on Hwy 41, I realized I had managed to make up some time. None the less, I opted to drop the WSAT bonus because it sounded like I’d have to do some walking in the rain. After snagging the extra points of NBCK, I wasn’t interested in the effort. So I headed to my last bonus of the day, EAGL6. The weather wasn’t as bad as the photo looks, but my phone camera was definitely struggling with moisture.

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After collecting the last bonus, I had 1 hour and 7 minutes to make it to the finish. According to my schedule it would take me around 52 minutes. I decided to stop along the way for gas so I’d be ready the next day when I headed home.  I arrived at the finish and received my scoring envelope which showed a stop time of 14:42. 18 minutes to spare! I’d ridden the best rally ride of my life!

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I checked into my room and really wasn’t in a hurry to get to scoring. I (mis-)figured it would take some time as I remembered what it was like the year before when I was a scorer. I worked to make my log sheet neat and double checked the points. I walked over to scoring with 45,790 on my sheet. I quickly discovered I was the last to turn in my envelope and they quickly got me and the other 2 remaining riders in for scoring.  The process was S.L.I.C.K!!! I especially liked the mirrored display so I could see what the scorer saw. Chris Rooney was my scorer. There was a mix up with the REST bonus and 6PACK bonus because I had not emailed them in, but they took care of it. Then they thought my NBCK bonus was mis-labled and that it was actually MBEC. I realized I was going to get the points for MBEC so I wasn’t going to argue.  Turns out that’s 77 points less, and I did have the right photo and the reference photo in the bonus listing was wrong.  I’m going to chalk it all up to good luck on my part.  My final score was 45,713  with the change of the 1 bonus. Still that felt like a solid score that should at least get me a trophy.

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I was a little nervous going into the banquet, but I decided I had ridden my personal best rally ride and I followed my program very closely, only deviating a little as real time situations dictated. When they called out the score for second place, I was relieved to know that it all worked out in my favor. I had finally won a rally!

This was a fantastic rally and I’ve identified a few things that need to be fixed in my routing program. It’s my goal to get those changes made to the program, test it in the Iron Butt Rally this summer and then release the program for free to all rally riders. The interesting thing about the program is that because everyone rides at a different pace, takes a different amount of time at bonuses, gas stops and even rest stops, the routes will certainly be different. The goal of the program is to give each rider the best route they can ride with their given variables.

A huge thanks to Lynne, Jesse, Troy and all the volunteers for putting on such a fun rally.  I know just how hard these things are to host, and this is definitely a top notch event!

3 comments:

john zabelle said...

Great rally report, thanks for sharing it. Looking forward to getting my hands on "Rallyman" when you release it!

John Z in Molino, FL

ChrisW said...

Congratulations from Australia - well done

Steve said...

Good report, and well done.

Maybe next year, I'm a bit tunnel-visioned this year